The world has changed dramatically in recent decades but many argue that the university system has not kept pace. As another academic year begins, if you peek into any introductory college science course you’re likely to find the same scene as you would have twenty years ago: An instructor writing equations on the blackboard while a lecture hall full of students take notes.
To accomplish this, the authors used results from a national web survey of 722 physics faculty who had taught introductory physics in the previous two years. Faculty gave information about their background (such as rank, type of institution, gender, and number of research publications). Then, faculty read through a comprehensive set of 24 research-based instructional techniques in physics and indicated whether they had heard of the technique, whether they’d used it, and whether they were still using it. This provided information about where each faculty member stood in the process of choosing whether to use a new teaching approach.
The authors’ first finding was that most physics faculty (88% of survey participants) know about at least one of these instructional techniques, and most faculty (72% of participants) had tried at least one. However, faculty who chose to respond to the survey may be more likely to use such techniques, so these numbers may over-estimate actual nationwide numbers. Despite this limitation, it does appear that the hard work to disseminate these materials and techniques has indeed paid off, and the word is out.But the clincher came when the researchers looked at discontinuation– about 1/3 of faculty who try one of these strategies stop using it.
Additionally, many assumptions about what might keep faculty from using educational innovations were not borne out by this study. A common idea is that older faculty are less innovative and, if we wait for older faculty to retire, then educational change will naturally follow. However, age (as measured by rank and years of teaching experience) was not correlated with use of instructional techniques, and it also didn’t matter if an instructor was in a teaching-oriented job, what type of institution he/she taught at, the size of the classes they teach, or if they were highly productive researchers. So, one can’t assume that more senior faculty, those more engaged in research, or those teaching large classes can’t or won’t use research-based teaching techniques.
Stephanie Chasteen | EurekAlert!
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